In the past year, with increased fascination with all things "STEM", various initiatives in schools have begun popping up which focus on "making". Typically such a program involves teaching students some beginner level coding, showing them how to design a computer-animated 3D model, and then using a 3D printer to "make" their final product. The end result: a bunch of little plastic trinkets that have been "made" by the "makers". The rhetoric surrounding "making" is overly excitable at best and ridiculous at worst as these types of programs seem to be the darlings of EdTech celebrities and school district PR people. Forget AP scores, content knowledge, and student activities, if you can make a plastic car using only a high-powered computer and a super expensive printer and a district-purchased suite of modeling software, you've got it made.
The "maker" people will tell you that "making" is extremely important because it combines a number of different skills and creates something "tangible that the students can see and understand how their work has made a difference!" They'll say things like "you have to know what angle your shape will take...see, that's math! And you have to know how the different colors will mix in the printer...that's science! And you have to spell everything right or the printer won't work...that's English!" This is akin to my mother trying to convince me that I would like broccoli cheese casserole as a child because it was made with cheese and rice. Sometimes the ingredients alone aren't enough to make the whole thing worth it.
Now, to be fair, I don't think there's anything wrong with making; if it teaches some students a skill that they plan on using later down the road, that's excellent. I can't imagine 3D printers are going to disappear anytime soon and perhaps they'll even become a revolutionary appliance somewhere down the road. For many students, however, "making" is just as frivolous as AP Calculus is to an English major, or AP Spanish is to an accountant. In fact, hasn't "making" existed for decades...only it was called "Woodshop" or "Welding" or "Tech Ed"? Yet, for some reason, Shop classes have slipped on the education totem pole, and even been cut in some cases, while districts pour money into buying new 3D printers. These 3D printers might be something special in the future, but for now, I'd rather see students make a wood-crafted candy machine like I did in 7th grade than "printing" plastic rabbits and iPhone cases.
Of course, it's probably not a good idea to dismiss any initiative outright. If students are enjoying their 3D printers and the cost isn't prohibitive, districts should go for it. Still, after looking at 3D printers and "making" for the past two years, I still can't figure out what everyone sees in it. This hardly seems like anything new, revolutionary, or even that important. I feel like I'm stuck in the Emperor's New Clothes...but I still can't figure out if I'm the rational member of the crowd...or the Emperor.